Eric Eidlin

About Eric Eidlin (Edit profile)

Eric Eidlin, AICP, is a community planner and Sustainable Communities Partnership Liaison for the Federal Transit Administration in San Francisco (eric.eidlin@dot.gov).

What Density Doesn’t Tell Us About Sprawl

Eric Eidlin

Sprawl has no single definition. Many people, however, tend to think of "sprawling" cities as places where people make most of their trips by car, and non-sprawling cities as places where people are more likely to walk, cycle, or take transit. This is why Los Angeles, which has more vehicles per square mile than any other urbanized area, and where transit accounts for only two percent of the region's overall trips, is considered sprawling, while the New York urbanized area is not. We also know (or think we know) that places where people frequently walk, cycle, or take transit tend to have high population densities, and for this reason we tend to view low density as a proxy for sprawl. But as it turns out, the Los Angeles urbanized area—which in both myth and fact is very car-oriented—is also very dense. In fact, Los Angeles has been the densest urbanized area in the United States since the 1980s, denser even than New York and San Francisco.

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